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Latest: Hurricane Michael Has Claimed 20 Lives
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Photo: Ricardo Arduengo

Latest: Hurricane Michael Has Claimed 20 Lives

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FLORIDA – October 15, 2018

The death toll from hurricane Michael continues to grow rapidly. At the moment, emergency services are reporting 20 dead. The last victim was found in Virginia.

These figures are not final, authorities say. Rescuers haven’t yet reached hard-to-reach areas, where authorities most warned people to leave, though not all heeded the call.

Three days after the giant storm, with rescue workers cutting through hulking piles of debris in search of survivors, residents have formed long lines outside fire stations, schools and Salvation Army food trucks to collect bottled water and ready-to-eat meals (MREs).

"It's about to get stupid if people don't get food and water," Panama City Assistant Fire Chief Gary Swearingen said Saturday.

The shortage of food in the disaster areas has led not only to looting but also to the use of firearms — authorities in the destroyed Panama city have reported a fatal shooting.

"This (storm) hit so hard and so fast that the different aspects of human nature are going to come out, and people are going to do anything to survive," Panama City resident Christopher Donahue told WEAR.

Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday that more than 1,800 law enforcement officers have been sent to impacted areas in the Panhandle and Big Bend along with more than 400 ambulances with over 700 staff. The Florida National Guard has activated 4,000 soldiers and airmen to help with search and rescue, clearing roads, and delivering supplies.

Several food and water distribution centers have opened. Scott also tweeted Saturday evening that 142,000 gallons of water and nearly 174,000 MREs had been delivered to affected communities, with food and water being airdropped to the hardest hit counties.

The Governor added on Saturday evening that there are 15 shelters open across the State and that 11 counties across Florida are eligible for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He also said 243,513 people are without power in Florida.

Scott also noted that the Walt Disney Company had donated $1 million to the Florida Disaster Fund.

"Unfortunately, we're probably still going to find people in the coming weeks," Panama City Fire Department Battalion Chief David Collier told CNN.

According to Collier’s estimates, the death toll could double in Panama City and surrounding communities as a result of the search.

"We're not able to gain access to all areas at this point in time," he said. "The quick response teams ... from around the state and nation have done a quick, rapid search of the area, have tried to clear homes the best they can."

It is also reported that the fire department is working around the clock and constantly receiving messages from local residents and authorities to check their buildings. The service representative said that firefighters were trying to assist in the search, but the situation was still complicated by the fact that many areas were flooded or almost completely destroyed.

Completing the checks could take days or weeks, the department says. Scott said more than 2,000 of his personnel are working to restore cell service and communication in the impacted areas.

Authorities also say it could take two months to restore power.

"Seventy-five percent of our city is not here (destroyed)," Mayor Al Cathey said. "There's not one local business that's operational."

In Lynn Haven, a city north of Panama City, Mayor Margo Anderson told CNN affiliate News 13 Orlando through tears that she and the city manager almost died in the city hall building during the storm.

"I want the people here to know they are loved. We are going to build this city back. It's going to be beautiful, and now we have about two months before our power grid's going to be back up. Probably a few days before we have water, and when we have water it's not going to be drinkable water," Anderson said.

Among the destruction, almost all of the schools in the district were destroyed. Bay District School Board Vice Chairman Steve Moss assessed the damage at Jinks Middle School in Panama City on Saturday, saying the hurricane will displace students from 25 of the district's 38 schools — some for months, others for years. That accounts for the majority of the district's 26,000 students. A statement from Gov. Scott said the district, along with six others across the state, would close until further notice.

More than 757,000 customers are still without power in seven states following the storm, which touched down on the Panhandle as one of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the United States, leaving a trail of destruction that stretched as far as to Virginia.

In the virtually leveled oceanside town of Mexico Beach, search-and-rescue crews made two passes through the rubble and continued searching Saturday.

About 280 of the town's 1,200 residents had indicated they would ride out the storm, but several of those likely fled at the last minute when the approaching storm's devastating strength became clear, Mayor Al Cathey said. At least one person — an elderly man — has been found dead, and it remains unclear how many are missing.

In addition, authorities say that several hospitals were destroyed as a result of the hurricane. There are open reception points for the wounded, who are then taken to the only working hospital in the city, or to Virginia or Alabama.

The front door of Bay Medical-Sacred Heart in Panama City was boarded up Friday, and water service hadn't been restored, but a handmade sign directed patients to the emergency room, which remains operational.

The hurricane-force winds were so powerful that they lifted the roof on the hospital's tower, where most of the patients were, and water poured into the facility. About 1,500 people, including doctors, nurses, and patients, rode out the storm.

Hundreds of patients were taken Friday to hospitals across Florida and as far away as Mobile, Alabama, in a parade of ambulances and medical helicopters. The one Panama City hospital is staying open, receiving patients in an emergency room running on generator power.

As for the victims of Hurricane Michael, one of the first was a man who was leaving his house just as lightning struck his car, and the electricity traveled to the man through the water. He died on the spot.

In another case, a woman sitting near her husband said she hopes that he will survive. She prayed to God that he wouldn't take her husband from her.

"I told him, 'Hold on, just hold on, I'm calling for help now,'" she told CNN affiliate WFTS on Thursday, sobbing.

Her husband, Steven, was killed when an oak tree smashed their home in Gretna, Florida, and landed on top of him. The 44-year-old was among at least 20 who have died since Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday.

Hours after the storm left her home in ruins, Gayle Sweet refused to leave. Her husband's body was still trapped in the rubble.

"Hopefully [emergency crews] will be here soon. I'm not going anywhere until they bring him out," she said.

Among the others victims, an 11-year-old girl died in Georgia when a carport came crashing through the roof. Two people died in North Carolina when their vehicle struck a tree that had fallen because of high winds, said Adrienne Jones, Deputy Director for McDowell County Emergency Medical Services.

Six people died in Virginia. Four drowned, and a firefighter was killed when a tractor-trailer lost control and hit his truck on a wet highway in Hanover County. On Saturday, he Virginia Department of Emergency Management said a sixth person died in Charlotte County.

In Georgia, officials are receiving reports that 84 chicken houses — estimated to hold more than 2 million chickens — were destroyed in the storm, which also caused severe damage to pecan, cotton, vegetable, and peanut crops.

Another victim was a 4-year-old child from Virginia, who ran out into the street after his mom who had gone to start the car to leave. Just as she ran out, iron beams fell down on her head.

"I cannot live more. My baby is no longer with us," the child's mother cried in tears. "I so wanted to take her away from here."

Michael's strength may reflect the effect of climate change on storms, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere create an energy imbalance, with more than 90% of remaining heat trapped by the gases going into the oceans.

While there might not be more storms in a warmer climate, most studies show that storms there will become stronger and produce more rain. Storm surges are worse now than100 years ago, thanks to the rise in sea levels.

The scientific research group Climate Central says unless the rate of greenhouse gas emissions changes, hurricanes are expected to intensify more rapidly in the coming decades.

Author: USA Really